Expectations and attachments.

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'Most of our troubles are due to our passionate desire for and attachment to things that we misapprehend as enduring entities.' 
- The Dalai Lama


We arrived back to Portugal after 3 incredible months in India, with 20 rolls of film ready to be developed. There was much debate over how and where to get this (so very precious to us) job done. Should we keep hold of the films and wait another 2 months until we're back in the UK? Should we post them to the UK?  Should we split the films up into two packages, just in case?
Reassured by the number of safely-arriving packages we'd sent between Portugal and the UK, missing India terribly and desperate to see the pictures, we decided to post them all in one box from Portugal to a film lab in Brighton. Slightly shitting ourselves, standing at the post office desk Angus took the postal receipt for priority, track and trace delivery,
'So, just to confirm, if this package gets lost, you'll be able to find out exactly where it is?' 
'Yes, absolutely.'

Nail-biting, trying to limit our relentless online inputting of the tracking number, we watched as the package arrived in Lisbon, and a few days later was received at Heathrow Distribution Centre. Phew. 
But from there it, apparently, wasn't budging. After a week staring at 'Received at Heathrow Distribution Centre', we contacted Royal Mail and heard exactly what we didn't want to hear, 'The package should have been delivered 4 days ago and therefore, we are sorry to say, we can not advise you on the whereabouts and can only suggest that you begin the process of claiming for loss.'.....


How and where could a shoe-box sized package with a clearly typed address, two return addresses, a contact email and a telephone number, get fucking LOST!? Every one of the 12 beaten-up postcards we sent from India made it safely through the postal system half way across the planet.
We had road-kill visions of our box flattened on the side of the road, having fallen off the back of a van(!?).. And then we put 'Heathrow Distribution Centre' into google images… Eurgh.

Four weeks passed, the tracking status stayed the same (we kidded ourselves into thinking we weren't checking it more than once a day), and then it was time for us to leave my parent's home in Portugal and begin our drive back to the UK. 
We tried, without much success, to just FRICKIN FORGET ABOUT IT FOR GOD SAKE! WORSE THINGS HAPPEN! But the sinking feeling kept tugging in our stomachs… Of all previous projects, this was the one we were most excited about; to share it with friends and family, to publish it online, the ideas we had for projects that might develop from the photos… And the memories captured... Ethereal moments in Varanasi alleyways, the sleeping dogs and the sleeping men, the sleeper-train rides, Holi whisky with the police in the field...
Taking photos is, as creativity is, a way to help communicate stuff we don't have words for, a tool for making better sense of things. India is that magic beyond words, flooded with intensity and inspiration, taking photos in some attempt to better understand things that perhaps we never will. Our time there seemed ages away, and now, ridiculously, it was as if it was slipping into a dream world. Did all that even happen? Our image-less accounts weren't going to come close to doing the experiences justice. Those intangible happenings became increasingly blurry. 

We veered off a main road in Spain and onto a random, narrow, forest track, looking for somewhere to stop for lunch and walk Jella. Random, narrow track lead us into the depths of lush, wet, green; a glistening buttercup meadow in the middle of an oak forest. Guiltily, we confessed that we'd each spent the morning's 4 hour drive silently trying to convince ourselves, that it was, actually, OK that the films were gone forever. Our minds on a merry-go-round of failing hopefulness. As Jella charged through the trees, leaping from stream to meadow like a mountain goat, we found pegged to a wire fence, bags of walnuts, pumpkin seeds, goji berries, fruit bars, a sleeping bag and some insect repellent. Food and camping stuff, a gift from previous visitors for future visitors. 
It was dawning on us that the misery merry-go-round that we were trying to pretend we weren't on, was contradictory to so much of what we had seen and tried to learn in India- of practicing non-attachment, of patience, and of not allowing happiness to be determined by expectations.

We depend our happiness upon people/things/events, inventing expectations of how we'd like these people/things/events to be. We worry about the possibility of losing them, and we're disappointed and sad if our expectations aren't met. For over 3 weeks a good portion of our happiness had been dependent on our expectation that we'd get to have our photos. We were emotionally attached to the outcome. Wasted energy; it couldn't change where our films were, and neither did it change the time that we'd had in India. We had our fixed idea of how we wanted things to go, under the illusion that we had solidity and control in an ever-changing world of possibilities.

We become attached to memories of the past, trying to preserve experiences in a form that we can recollect. When the astronauts landed on the moon, they left a flag. Like tourists scrawling their name on a monument… Part of us was clinging to the desire for our 3 months in India to be permanent, captured for us to keep forevermore. But, of course, everything is temporary, part of the cycle. Creation and destruction are interrelated.

It is a human tendency to define ourselves by our roles, possessions and relationships, to become attached to these definitions as what we believe to be our 'identity'. Loss seems to mean losing not what we have, but who we are. It was as if losing our films wasn't a loss of 750 sections of exposed chemicals on strips of plastic, but a loss of a bit of ourselves. For the duration of our time in India we travelled safe, happy, uninjured, surrounded by kindness, and returned with all our belongings. Losing our films was our loss, and it affected us more than breaking a wrist after falling off a moped would have.

So what some wise people in India taught us, and a postage fail helped us to try to put into practice, was that essentially attachment and expectations = suffering in a pit of glum, longing for our package to re-appear. Boring. 
But isn't becoming detached from everything a bit cold and emotionless?
Non-attachment and detachment aren't the same. 
Detachment- 'I don't want to lose this game so I'm going home and not playing.' Detachment is through fear, a defence mechanism against emotion.
Non-attachment- 'I'm playing and giving it my all, but I'm not worried about the results.' Non-attachment is to be open to the possibilities of every moment, accepting and adjusting to change as it comes and letting things go as they pass, allowing emotions to rise without holding on to them.

Without expectations for the future, how do we put effort into something? Do we continue to take photos? Yes, but we'll try to live through our values in the moment with less attachment to the results. Remembering that the art isn't just within the photos, but exists in the continuously evolving journey of experience, conversation and learning. Trying to remind ourselves to to be in the present, whether or not the situation meets our expectations, accepting life however it unfolds. 

A lesson for us in many more ways than one (we'd have probably had more success sending all our films unrecorded second class from India...). We got back into the van to continue the drive with a new sense of contentment and acceptance, after a perhaps overly complex conversation about what was in reality just a Royal Mail cock-up.
But we agreed, 
'Let's move on from this.'
And we did.
About time too.

Two days later we parked up outside a French McDonalds to steal some wifi. At the top of the email inbox was a message sent an hour earlier, from the photo lab in Brighton- they'd received our package that morning and had just processed our first roll of film. 

Let the universe unfold…

'He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity's sunrise.' 
- William Blake